Robert Pollack
Columbia University

Since 1981 Columbia has offered "The Theory and Practice of Science," a course designed for non-science majors fulfilling a portion of their science distribution requirement. Unlike standard models, this course introduces sufficient mathematics so that original scientific papers may be used as a basis for study. By rigorously examining particular developments and discoveries of contemporary biology, the course acquaints the non-scientist with what scientists do; how scientists approach technical, methodological and philosophical problems; and how the theory and practice of a science evolve together.

Format of the class:
Recitation schedule is arranged at the first meeting of the class. Classroom participation and attendance at weekly recitations are expected. The grade for this course is derived from classroom participation, recitation quizzes, a midterm, and a final exam. Final covers material after spring break.


1 Intro: Why is biology a science? Measurements and numbers I: exponents  Watson, 1993, tables 
2 Darwin I: main ideas  Darwin, Ch 1-4 
3 Darwin II: difficulties  Darwin, Ch 14 
4 Measurements and numbers II: precision vs accuracy  Wald, 1993 
5 Introduction to computer models 
6 A short history of life on Earth  Schrödinger Ch 1 
7 Mendel I: choosing a system - biology of the pea; dominance  Mendel, 1886, Figures 
8 Mendel II: return of the recessive  \ Schrödinger Ch 2 
9 Mendel III: stable characters (genes)  \
10 Weissman I: stable chromosomes  Weissman 1893  Schrödinger Ch 3 
11 Weissman II: mitosis, meiosis  \
12 Morgan I: choosing a system - biology of the fly  Morgan, 1910 
13 Morgan II; Sturtevant I: recombination  \ , Sturtevant  Schrödinger Ch 4-end 
14 Sturtevant II: genes area part of a chromosome  Sturtevant
15 Schrödinger: the gene is an aperiodic crystal  Schrödinger
16 Review for Email midterm, posted today, reply must be posted by midnight tonight 
SPRING BREAK  Begin Watson, Pollack 
17 Avery I; biological chemistry  Avery, 1944 
18 Avery II: choosing the system - the biology of bacteria DNA Transformation I:  \
19 Avery III: the gene is not a protein  \
20 Lederberg I: mutations are Darwinian  Lederberg, 1952 
21 Lederberg II: Lysenko: the gene is political  \ , Lysenko, 1953 
22 Watson I: DNA is a hereditable chemical  Watson and Crick, 1953  Watson
23 Watson II: DNA is a genetic text  \ \
24 Reading DNA I: molecular word processor  Mullis, 1990  Pollack
25 Reading DNA II: molecular genetics  Bhattacharyya, 1990  \
26 Reading DNA III: molecular evolution  Ayala, 1992  \
27 Reading DNA IV: transgenetics  Gordon, 1981  \
28 Review for final exam